iHipHop Interview- Production Of The Environment: The Alchemist

Written by Serge Fleury

Sunday, June 14th, 2009 at 9:14 pm
Views: 4302


al-2When it comes to Hip-Hop production, plenty of beat smiths have managed to carve their names into the history books.

Their work usually speaks for itself, and it’s that same quality of product that continues to keep them in business, while keeping their numbers on speed-dial with artists—and amongst that elite group of producers who seem to constantly show growth in their profession is none other than Alan “The Alchemist” Maman.

With production credits that stretch from the Pacific to the Atlantic, the man who also doubles as Eminem’s [Click for Relapse review] DJ has quietly (if you ask him) helped to transcend the level of production in Hip-Hop.

After releasing projects like 1st Infantry back in 2004, Return Of The Mac with Prodigy in 2007, and The Alchemist’s Cookbook EP in 2008, he finally returns with his long-awaited Chemical Warfare project, which is set to be released this year.

So if you ever wanted to get into the mind of the person who constructed flawless material such as Jadakiss’ [Click for Jadakiss interview] ‘We Gonna Make It, Mobb Deep’s ‘The Realest’ with Kool G. Rap, Nas’ ‘Book Of Rhymes,Lil Wayne’s ‘You Ain’t Got Nuthin’ from Tha Carter III with Fabolous and Juelz Santana [Click for Juelz interview], or ‘Desire’ for Pharoahe Monch; here’s your chance in the edition of Production Of The Environment…

iHipHop.com: I want to start from the top: When did you first even get into producing? Was it something that was always in you?

Alchemist: I always had an ear for the beats, and prior to that I was a DJ and I rapped… I always felt like if I had to chance to pick beats, I would know what I wanted to pick…

So it went from me take it a step further, to picking a sample and putting the drums to it…

I was always inspired by the producer, and I wanted to know that process more than I wanted to know the lyrical process… I spent years imitating producers, and if you can imitate somebody great, that’s a sign of talent…

I hear producers today that sound like other producers, and if that’s the only thing that’s knocking them, then I don’t really diss them… If you can imitate Timbaland, then you’re halfway there…

iHipHop.com: Speaking of imitation, was if difficult for you to find your own sound at first after growing up listening to the Preemo’s, the Pete Rock’s, and the Large Professor’s?

Alchemist: Yeah, completely… I don’t think anybody who has a “sound” plans it… It’s just like a ouija board: You ask the board a question, and you put your hand on the piece, and it goes to where you think it should go…

alchemistSo that’s kind of how it is with my sound… I think my sound is a mixture of all the people I looked up to…

Sometimes Prodigy will kick me a rhyme and he’ll say, “You see that flow right there?” and I’ll be like, “What’s that?” Then he’ll repeat lyrics from another rapper, and it’ll be the same cadence, but he took it and made it totally different…

Nobody else on the planet would’ve made that connection, except for him, and his crazy mind… I had fake [DJ] Premier beats for years! Imitations…

iHipHop.com: [Laughing]…

Alchemist: My team would tell me, “Your sh*t is dope, but it sounds exactly like [DJ] Premier’s.” Evidence and certain people would put me in check, and then I learned… Especially after I finally met him… I always knew copying was whack…

I came from an era where biting was whack, but I also knew at that time I wasn’t ready yet… Then once I finally got a chance to do beats for people, I was finally starting to develop a style…

Nobody owns a sound, and nobody owns a sample, but there are little things that you can do to make it signature…

iHipHop.com: Obviously you have Chemical Warfare on deck, and you have people like Fab, Twista, Maxwell, and [Kool] G. Rap on album. Was it difficult tracking down the artists you wanted to work with?

Alchemist: Everybody that made the album was very cool… There were some records that didn’t make the album, because when I was putting it together, it didn’t fit… Whatever pieces made the most sense, I went with… There were people who probably should’ve made the album, but didn’t—like close friends…

I make enemies sometimes, not on purpose, but I try to explain that to producers in the game… Sometimes I kept beats on the side, because I was saving it for somebody, and that might make an enemy with another artist… That’s the same thing with my album: I don’t have a Dilated Peoples song on my album, and that’s a shame…

Evidence is on the album, but it just seemed like the record we had didn’t fit at the end of the day… Sometimes sh*t like that happens, and it’s nothing personal… But the people who made it, it was an honor to work with them…

iHipHop.com: What happens to the joints that didn’t make the album? Do they get locked in the vault until you release the Cookbook pt. 2? [Laughs]

Alchemist: [Laughing]… Yeah, them sh*ts come out one way or another… Usually they end up leaking, and some DJ gets it, and they’ll be like, “NEW SH*T!” They always sneak out…

iHipHop.com: [Laughs]… Was there anybody that you wanted to get for the record, but couldn’t?

Alchemist: Scarface… I wanted Scarface bad, and I tried a thousand-million times… I’m sure if he ever hears this or reads it, he’ll be like, “I’m right here man, what you mean?!?” I know it’s nothing personal, I got love for Scarface, and I know he has love for me, but for some reason it just didn’t work out…

al-1iHipHop.com: How did the process go? Did you personally pick and choose the beats for the artists, or did you let them do their own digging?

Alchemist: Every situation was different… For example, with KRS-[One]: We got in the studio, and I was just playing a lot of different joints I thought he’d be dope on, and we actually recorded three songs that day… So I had to pick one out of the three, but they were all records that were dope to me…

iHipHop.com: What was your favorite song to make on the album?

Alchemist: My favorite song man, personally is the last song on the album… It’s just me by myself…

iHipHop.com: It’s just you going in by yourself?

Alchemist: Yeah… On 1st Infantry, I had ‘Different Worlds’ as the last song with Twin, and it was like an introspective by giving you a glimpse of who I am… So I feel like this song does that too… It’s called ‘Take A Look Back,and it’s just me breaking down how I feel…

I always take a look back at my life to see what’s important, because money comes and goes; you know what I’m saying? But memories of the stuff that happened in your life are FOREVER…

If you take a 70-year-old man who has a lot of money, but none of his childhood friends, versus a 70-year-old man who’s broke, but has all of his friends—having all of your friends is ALWAYS going to win out…

When you get that old, all you want to do is sit around with your friends and be like, “Remember that time?” Every year when I get up with my old crew back in LA, we have plans to go out and get drunk… But we end up sitting in someone’s crib like, “Remember that time?” “HOW ABOUT THAT TIME!”

Next thing you know, it’s one in the morning, and we didn’t even go out… I’d rather be sitting in the crib talking about those times with [you] guys, rather than being in a club looking at a bunch of d*ckheads… That’s what it’s all about, and that song does that for me…

iHipHop.com: Do you get those same feelings when you go back and listen to your old stuff?

Alchemist: ‘The Realest’ with Kool G. Rap and Mobb Deep… I think I listened to it for the first time two months ago… I’ve heard it a million times, but I was in my crib cleaning, and my iTunes was on random, and it came on after some other sh*t. So I got to listen to it as a fan, and I was like, “Oh this sh*t is dope!”

iHipHop.com: [Laughing]…

Alchemist: I never heard it like that before, and I was so proud of it…

iHipHop.com: When you’re in the studio with an artist, do you try to give them some direction, or do you just let them go in?

Alchemist: I give them direction as far as delivery, rhythm, cadence, and tone… But I’m not going to tell someone what to write… I won’t do that… I’ll tell you if I like the song, of if I don’t… That’s like a dude telling me how to sample, or how to make my beats…

You have to give people room to be creative… When I’m working on a beat, and I’m halfway through it, it doesn’t sound right sometimes… You might think it’s ready, but I might end up changing it 20 more times until I think it’s ready…

al-4_phixriHipHop.com: Does it bother you when people just assume that your stuff is ready to go without really asking you?

Alchemist: Somebody might come in the room, and judge me at the moment, and I hate that… Everybody who knows me knows that when you come in; don’t even tell me what you think until I ask you…

Because you might come in and go, “That sh*t is weak man” “That’s what you’re working on?”

By doing that, you stunt my creative growth; because you don’t even know what process I’m in right now… Once it’s ready, then tell me it’s whack, and I’ll respect that…

iHipHop.com: So basically, your process goes through a lot of stages?

Alchemist: I remember coming into the studio with Mobb Deep sometimes, and Hav is making a beat on the spot…

In my head, I’d be like, “That sh*t is whack!” “He’s going to make a out of that?!” “I don’t get it!” “How’s he going to rap to that?!” Next thing you know he’s changing it, the 808’s come in, and it’s hot!

iHipHop.com: Is there a friendly competition between you and Hav?

Alchemist: Hell yeah… With all of my peers… When they do some fly sh*t, they keep me on my toes, and that sends me home automatically… I can name a lot dudes: Jake One, Khalil, Nottz, [DJ] Premier, Scram Jones, Evidence, DJ Babu, The Runners got retarded beats, Dawaun Parker [Click for interview], Marco Polo [Click for interview] is sick, and Black Milk

These are dudes who are SUPER nice, whether people know about them or not… These are the people I look up to, and respect… When I hear their beats, I’m like, “Wow, now I gotta go home, and make something ill.” Hopefully I do the same thing for them…

iHipHop.com: So you think there is a camaraderie between fellow producers?

Alchemist: There is a certain camaraderie of respect in the production field; it’s a lot different than the rap game… Rappers are more territorial, and you can’t big another rapper up if you rap…

I’m not afraid to say that all those people are better than me… All the people I just named are better than me, and that’s why I have to go home everyday, and make something to compete with them…

iHipHop.com: How do you think you’ve grown as a producer from your earlier work to now?

Alchemist: I think you get older and wiser on every level, and you pick up something new everyday… I can say that every beat I made before back then, if I can go back now; I can make that beat better technique-wise…

Fans might say they like my 2001 era beats more than my 2006 era beats, and I hear it all the time… I listen to old beats that people love, and I would’ve made those so much better right now, and that’s how I know I’m getting better… I feel like there’s a lot more room for me to grow…

iHipHop.com: So you’re open to change, instead of having the whole “if it ain’t broke…” mentality?

Alchemist: I’m totally open to it… There was a time when I was afraid to play certain beats for [DJ] Premier, because wouldn’t know if he’d like a clap instead of a snare… I had to grow out of that, and say, [DJ] Premier is going to like it, if it’s dope.”

iHipHop.com: I want to get into your whole Eminem experience… I know you guys just recently came off tour together, so how has it been like working with somebody of that caliber?

Alchemist: INCREDIBLE… [Laughs]… I wish I had a cooler adjective, but it’s been humbling… I always knew that with this playing field, I would be on, but I never knew it would be in the background with Em, and it took a lot to get here with Em at this point…

As far as being “Alchemist” and “Eminem’s DJ,” “Eminem’s DJ” is on a higher level than “Alchemist” is as far as popularity goes in the world… I seen it by traveling with him, and it humbled me…

I was cool with just being “Alchemist,but being “Eminem’s DJ” is even bigger… I can go places and not get in by saying I’m “Alchemist,” but I can get in by saying that I’m “Eminem’s DJ.That’s humbling…

al-3iHipHop.com: [Laughs]… Throughout your career, you seemed to always be the humble type, is that a fair assessment?

Alchemist: I always knew that I was dope, but I knew I wouldn’t get my props by running around telling people that I was dope, and that I need my props… It worked for Kanye West, VERY well…

But that will only work for Kanye in my opinion… I don’t think another guy will come into the game and really gangster it like he did, and force you to like his sh*t, and it really worked…

As for me, I wasn’t raised the same way… I was raised not to ever do that, and if you have to get props that way, then it wasn’t meant to be… I love what he [Kanye West] did, and he did it, but my path is just a different path…

iHipHop.com: Do you find it difficult keeping your name in people’s mouths as the years go by, and as other producers begin to come out and get recognition?

Alchemist: Yeah, I do… But it’s not like I’m competing with anybody, because I feel like I’m in a category with a lot of other dudes…

I’d put Hi-Tek in that category, Just Blaze, Nottz, and EZ Elpee… That’s the category where I feel like no new producer can take my spot, the same way [DJ] Premier never felt like “Alchemist” was taking his spot…

We’re in a class where we graduated and received our honors, and we’re here… So if anything—I love when new producers come in, because it inspires me, and keeps me on my toes…

I believe that when it comes to any rapper on this planet, if I got a beat for them that I think would work for them, I can get it to them… So with that said, I don’t feel like any of these people are competition to me… The only competition I have is with myself to continue on being great…

iHipHop.com: What keeps you motivated? What keeps your drive up?

Alchemist: I stay a fan, and I keep finding things that I like… It’s like a relationship with a girl: You have to keep it exciting… The relationship dies out when the excitement dies out… In the music industry, when I get bored, I try to find ways to liven up the relationship…

This sh*t ain’t work… When people call me, and I tell them I’m working, I feel guilty… I feel guilty to call girls up and say, “Yo, I’m in the lab working.” That’s such a cop-out, and I’m not really working… I’m doing what I like to do… The minute you wake up and you’re like, “This is work,” that’s when you start deteriorating…

al-6iHipHop.com: Okay, so I’m going to end it off with a question that I like to ask all producers: What’s the one piece of production equipment you can’t live without? Something that you would consider to be like your firstborn?

Alchemist: There’s new machine that I helped design with a particular company, and it’s called the Millennium Falcon

It is CRAZY! That’s what I’ve been doing everything on right now, and I don’t want to blow it up too much, but y’all just stayed tuned… It’s going to change the production game…

iHipHop.com: You’re the only one with it?

Alchemist: Yes… It’s the Millennium Falcon designed by “Alchemist, and it’s going to definitely change the game…

I don’t know when we’re going to reveal it, but just know that you can’t f*ck with me because I have the Millennium Falcon

iHipHop.com: [Laughing]… That’s the secret weapon right there?

Alchemist: Secret weapon, Millennium Falcon


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